Syracuse becomes first No. 10 seed to reach Final Four
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Welcome to the wild Midwest, where the mayhem continued unabated Sunday at the United Center.
After shocking top seed Virginia 68-62, Syracuse will be the first 10th seed to play in the Final Four.
The Orange (23-13) survived a nine-game suspension of coach Jim Boeheim, an 0-4 start in the Atlantic Coast Conference and a 1-5 stretch at the end of the season.
They shocked many merely by receiving an NCAA tournament bid.
Most surprising of all, though, they came back from 15 points down with 9½ minutes left against the stout defense of the Cavaliers.
‘‘I haven’t been here forever,’’ Boeheim, who came to Syracuse as a walk-on freshman in 1962 and never left, told Orange fans as his team prepared to cut down the nets. ‘‘But this is the best comeback we’ve ever had.’’
We should have known the Midwest was ripe for this. This is the region in which No. 15 seed Middle Tennessee shocked No. 2 seed Michigan State, No. 12 seed Little Rock took out No. 5 seed Purdue and No. 11 seed Gonzaga stunned No. 3 seed Utah.
Then again, nobody could have known this. Even Boeheim didn’t. Only two lower seeds have reached the Final Four: No. 11 George Mason in 2006 and No. 11 LSU in 1986.
‘‘I thought we deserved to be in the tournament,’’ Boeheim said. ‘‘But I wasn’t planning on getting to the Final Four. We tell the players: ‘It’s one game. If you can just win one game, you get another chance.’ They’ve done that.’’
At halftime, Syracuse’s run seemed destined to end. With London Perrantes making five three-pointers beyond the reach of the Orange’s 2-3 zone, Virginia had a 35-21 lead and seemed poised for its first Final Four trip since 1984.
The Cavaliers (29-8) led 54-39 with 9½ minutes left, but Syracuse outscored them 29-8 from there, combining full-court pressure and hot shooting with its unsettling zone.
The Orange forced six turnovers in the second half and committed none. After going 1-for-9 on three-pointers in the first half, they went 5-for-10 in the second.
Malachi Richardson, who scored 21 of his 23 points in the second
half, led Syracuse. Perrantes scored only three of his 18 points in the second half.
‘‘This has been a very interesting year,’’ Orange guard Trevor Cooney said. ‘‘We’ve obviously been through a lot. We learned a lot about each other throughout the year, and all those things are paying off now.’’
Syracuse will face ACC rival North Carolina in the Final Four on Saturday in Houston. When asked whether the ACC was stronger this season than the Big East was in 1985, when it had three Final Four teams, Boeheim answered carefully.
‘‘[ACC people] want me to say that, but I can’t say that,’’ he said. ‘‘I was in that other league 30 years. But this is a great league. Six teams [in the Sweet 16], four teams [in the Elite Eight]. We’ll get two teams to Houston. We have a great league.’’
When a No. 10 seed such as Syracuse reaches the Final Four, that pretty much makes the point.
Follow me on Twitter @HerbGould.